Last month a man very dear to my heart passed away unexpectedly. Fulvio Bertolotti was my cousin. godfather and most importantly. a kindred spirit. A man with an ex~
traordinary personality he viewed all situations and people in an abstract way. l>-le was one of the most vivacious people l had ever known who saw wonderment in all things and his greatest asset by far was his gift of conversation, storytelling and theatrics.
From the moment he bowed, took my hand and referred to me as ‘your royal highness’ while escorting me down the grand staircase of the magnificent pallazzo of Isola Madre on Lake Maggiore, ltaly to our archaeological excursion in the nearby countryside – all in search of the remains of lost Roman warriors from a long ago battle with the Gauls – no one could dispute his entertaining and childlike imagination. Fulvio would have made a magnificent novelist.
Having grown up in post WWII career options for someone with such an imagination and talents was limited. He eventually went to work as a waiter in Milan, dedicating himself wholeheartedly to what became a satisfying and lifelong profession. Employed in the most prestigious restaurants and hotels as server and maitre d’, my cousin became known as one of the best his field. While gallantly serving aristocracy politicians and renowned actors he developed a passion for the culinary arts. Thanks to him i was fortunate to learn the ABCs of dining etiquette and had the opportunity to sample extraordinary dishes he prepared and mastered under the tutelage of some of the finest chefs in ltaly. Not only did he love to cook but he also enjoyed providing a detailed history behind each recipe. While on my last visit to Milan in 2012 we had debated greatly over the origins of Risotto alla Milanese – a rice dish native to our area. Bearing a strong likeness to paelfa. l was adamant risotto had been introduced by the Spaniards who had settled the region in the sixteenth century. Fulvio, on the other hand. strongly stated that it was created by our very own forefathers and delved into extensive research regarding this subject.
According to his findings, sent to me in the form of an animated letter with an accompanying recipe, the bright yellow rice dish is connected to a renowned stained glass artisan who worked on the Milan Cathedral in 1574. The artisan’s apprentice, who used saffron as a colourant for his glassworks, decided to surprise his master with an interesting gift. Upon the artisan’s daughter’s wedding to a wealthy local merchant. the apprentice added saffron to rice and had it served by valets on opulent silver trays at the reception. l will miss stories as these along with his interesting culinary surprises such as Risotto di Fraqole (strawberry rice) and his anfipasto specialty consisting of savoury port wine and prosciutto served inside cantaloupe halves. l will miss our visits to the village market and his spirited conversation with the vendors but mostly l will miss his extraordinary laughter.
Godspeed my godfather, cousin and friend.